In 1890, The Christian and Missionary Alliance established a mission post in Sierra Leone hoping that it would provide a gateway into what was known as “French Soudan”—a vast expanse of land stretching from present-day Mali to the eastern highlands of Ethiopia. The French government stonewalled the missionaries’ entrance to the Soudan for nearly 30 years. In that time, our missionaries faced hardship and death from disease and tribal conflict.
When recalling the treacherous conditions that these early workers encountered, R. S. Roseberry, pioneer missionary to French West Africa, wrote in his book The Niger Vision, “It is doubtful if any effort to open a road into the Dark Continent surpasses the heroism of the early pioneers of the Soudan Mission.”
On the trail from Freetown to the highlands, one may find the last resting place of men and women who had a vision and followed on to the end. Some sleep in unmarked graves in the long grass. More than 30 lives were laid down in those years of trial, when the strongest hearts were tried.
At a point of desperation, the field sent out a call in 1912 for more missionaries. Carrie Elizabeth Merriweather, a second-year student at The Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College, Nyack, N.Y.), heard that call and decided to respond, ultimately forgoing her graduation. She arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone, in November 1913, becoming the first female African-American missionary to be sent by the C&MA.
Born July 28, 1881, in Carthage, Indiana, Merriweather moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of 17 to attend Friends’ Bible School. While there, she befriended Mrs. B. H. Smoot, ardent supporter of the foreign missionary effort. At Smoot’s encouragement, Merriweather enrolled at Nyack in 1910 with only $50 to cover her expenses. She spent the next two years studying and paying for her tuition by faith and hard work.
At the beginning of her second term in Sierra Leone, Merriweather was forced to leave the field because of illness. Although she continued to suffer from her condition after returning home, Merriweather still managed to travel and invite people to her house when she was too sick to leave. She spent the rest of her life stirring interest for Africa and encouraging others to follow God wherever He might call them.
Carrie Merriweather went to be with the Lord March 20, 1931. She left a tremendous legacy as over the next two decades, seven more African-American missionaries—Eugene M. and Sadie Thornley, Montrose and Ella Mae Waite (and later his second wife, Anna Marie), Mr. R. H. Wilson, and Mrs. A. A. Fitts (neé Bolden)—followed in her footsteps to spread the gospel in Sierra Leone and the regions beyond.